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While Canada profited from war in Yemen, China pushed for peace

Ottawa’s largest non-US buyer of arms is Saudi Arabia

Canadian PoliticsMiddle East

Saudi forces take part in military exercises during a visit by Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah at a military base in Yemen’s southern embattled city of Aden. Photo by Ahmed Farwan/Flickr.

One of the most encouraging developments in global affairs right now is China’s mediation of the regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which has seen Beijing join Oman in pushing for peace in the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The Omani government has been hosting talks between the Saudi-led coalition and Ansar Allah (the Houthis) for many years, a unique position that has been recognized by all participants in the Yemen war. As the only government in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) not to participate in the military conflict, the Omani capital of Muscat has served as neutral ground for all sides to meet and discuss the humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Yemen. Oman’s diplomatic efforts made possible the April 2022 ceasefire, which more recent peace efforts have built upon.

In March of this year, Beijing facilitated the resumption of diplomatic and commercial ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Under the umbrella of the Saudi-Iran détente, Beijing also helped negotiate a deal to finally bring the Saudi-led war of aggression in Yemen—which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and imposed famine conditions on huge areas of the country—to a close.

The negotiations have seen Saudi officials fly to Sana’a, effectively acknowledging the authority of the Houthi government that Riyadh and its allies have demeaned as mere proxies of Iran. Saudi Arabia has also agreed to a range of concessions, which include “opening the major port to allow critical supplies into the country, allowing flights into Sana’a, and allowing the government to have access to its currency to pay its workers and stabilize the economy.” The Saudi blockade of Yemen has still not been fully lifted, but these concessions are steps toward alleviating what the United Nations has recognized as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Saudi Arabia’s concessions read like an admission of defeat. Despite all the firepower and diplomatic cover Western nations supplied to Riyadh and its allies, they were unable to beat Ansar Allah, a government and movement with genuine popular support in Yemen.

Indeed, the Houthis’ strategy of bringing the war back to Saudi Arabia with drone and rocket retaliations inside Saudi territory seems to have paid off. With Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on attracting foreign investors for his Vision 2030 project, sporadic reprisals by an enemy that had basically already won were an unnecessary nuisance. As the war ground on, in fact, it seemed to benefit its participants in Washington, Ottawa, and elsewhere more than it served Riyadh.

It should be remembered that Joe Biden campaigned on ending the war in Yemen. His administration abandoned that promise almost immediately and played no part whatsoever in the negotiations that may bring the conflict to an end. In fact, when news of the Saudi-Iran agreement broke, Biden’s CIA Director William Burns paid an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia to express Washington’s frustration with Riyadh for seeking rapprochement in the region.

US arms sales to the kingdom made Washington an active participant in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. The same is true of Ottawa, whose largest non-US buyer of arms is Saudi Arabia. Though Ottawa claimed that weapons from Canada were not used in assaults on Yemen, photographic evidence revealed this to be a lie.

Despite being exposed lying about Canada’s participation in the Yemen war, the Trudeau government continued to increase arms sales to Saudi Arabia, jumping from $1.3 billion in 2020 to $1.7 billion in 2021. During the same period, a pair of UN reports directly blamed Canada for fuelling the war through its arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Again, this played no role in Canada’s policy toward the Saudis.

In March, a document obtained by The Breach revealed how Ottawa views Saudi Arabia behind closed doors: as a crucial provider of cheap oil, a source of profits for Canadian companies, and a bulwark of Western power in the West Asian region. The document shows that the Trudeau government considers arms sales to and military cooperation with Saudi Arabia to be a positive thing, as this policy “reduce[s] future requirements for large scale Western military missions.”

Alongside the US and European powers, Canada is an active belligerent in the war in Yemen. Arms companies in Canada profited from selling weapons to the conflict’s aggressor, while Ottawa facilitated the flow of blood money by approving an enormous amount of arms export permits despite evidence that Canadian arms were being used in Yemen.

By contrast, Beijing facilitated negotiations, dialogue, and a potential end to the horrors of the almost ten-year war. It’s difficult to imagine a starker contrast.

Owen Schalk is a writer from Manitoba. His book on Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan will be released by Lorimer in September. You can preorder it here. To see more of his work, visit www.owenschalk.com.

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